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Historic Building Details

HB Ref No:

Extent of Listing:
Church, gates, gate pillars and walling

Date of Construction:
1780 - 1799

Address :
Holy Trinity Church of Ireland Ballylesson Road Belfast County Down BT8 8JU


Survey 2:

Date of Listing:
26/08/1987 00:00:00

Date of De-listing:

Current Use:

Former Use

Conservation Area:

Industrial Archaeology:





OS Map No:

IG Ref:
J3294 6728

Owner Category

Church - C of I

Exterior Description And Setting

A double-height rubble stone barn church with tower displaying Romanesque detailing built c.1790, with later Gothic additions and alterations. Cruciform plan form with additional single storey vestry accommodation on the north elevation. Located to the north of the junction between Purdysburn Hill and Ballylesson Road, southeast of the Giants Ring (DOW 009:036). Pitched natural slate roof with clay ridge tiles and lead flashing to the valleys and partially over coping stones. Cast-aluminium rain water goods with ogee moulded gutters and circular down pipes. Random rubble masonry to the earlier tower and nave with random cut-masonry, laid partially to courses, to the later transept and chancel extensions, with sandstone coping, quoins and surrounds. Windows are cast-iron framed set into cut stone surrounds with large stone cills. The later windows are set-piece geometrical tracery with quatrefoil central light over, embraced by a chamfered equilateral pointed arched opening with red sandstone label course. Doors are timber with wrought-iron ironmongery. The principal elevation faces west and is symmetrically arranged; 3-stage tower centrally located in front of the original nave. To the left of the tower is a single-storey vestry built c.1820 with additional single-storey toilet built c.1980. The tower is square plan form rising to instepped upper section with chamfered corners terminating with four plain pyramidal pinnacles. The front door is replacement timber with the original ironmongery, inset into a recessed round-headed arch with smooth stone surround, flanked by two yew trees. Above is a pair of smaller round-headed arched windows with intersecting glazing bars, inset into a stone surround with relieving arch over. Above is a cut stone string course with a raked string course over, portraying a pediment, and rising to moulded stone cornice. The belfry stage has a blank oculus located centrally with a large timber louvered round-headed arch rising to second cornice level. The north face has the same paired arched windows and louvered opening as the front elevation, although has no oculus or raked string course. . The south face retains the original 82-paned round-headed arched opening with sandstone surrounds and split stone arch over at lower level with 25-paned oculus over. Located below the timber louvered opening is a modern clock face. Located directly behind the tower is the gable end of the nave. The north elevation comprises two single-storey additions at ground level to the right, the adjoining nave projecting eastwards, the gable end of the north transept located to the left. The nave has two large gothic windows on either side dating from c.1860, replacing the original round-headed arched openings with distinctly newer stone above and below the window. Recent restoration disclosed that the entrance from the porch to the nave also had a matching semi circular arched head, which is still there but was changed to a pointed arch opening to correspond to the nave windows. Gabled transept with kneeler stone; string course intersecting a large sandstone oculus comprising of recessed central cinquefoil tracery, complemented by fourteen outer quatrefoil oculi, surrounded by carved stone moulding. The quoin stones are carved to form a pilaster rising from the battering to the string course. To the right cheek of the transept are two paired cusped lattice lights with sandstone surrounds. The left cheek has a modern timber external door with sympathetic ironmongery; short-and-long sandstone surrounds with sandstone lintel inscribed ‘MCMLXXXIX’. The gable east elevation is abutted by the projecting chancel and has moulded apex stone, part of a former chimney. The coping stones fall to kneeler stone with gablet over a profiled gable shoulder. The chancel gable is symmetrically arranged with an additional lean-to single-storey heating chamber located to the right; detailing matching the transept with additional sandstone clasp buttressing to the corners. Large stained-glass window of plate tracery comprising three cusped lights, colonnaded, with triple cinquefoil oculus over. The south elevation matches the north elevation. Setting The church is sited on the top of a hill at the end of a short steep incline through the associated graveyard. The graveyard encloses all sides to the church and is also densely vegetated to the perimeter of the site. From distance the church tower is visible, peering above the tree line. There are two large square-cut stone pillars with carved sandstone cornice supporting a pair of heavy cast-iron gates. A random masonry wall runs the length of the south side of the site bordering the Ballylesson Road. On both sides the walling rises to meet the pillars. Roofing Natural slate Walling Random masonry Windows Cast-iron frames Rwg Cast-iron


Watson, W James Consarc Lilley, Charles Welland & Gillespie

Historical Information

The OS maps from 1834 shows church tower nave and single storey vestry. During this period the Townland Valuations 1828-40 value the church at £10.18s. Griffiths Valuation 1863 values the church at £23, an increase as a result of the additional work. There are no further increases throughout the Annual Revisions 1865-1929. The OS map of 1901 illustrates the church footprint in its current form and captioned ‘Holy Trinity’. F. Rankin (p.39) states that the church was built c.1790 for the sum of £1251.5s.½ d with monies received from subscriptions and consecrated on 24 July 1791. The OS Memoirs of Ireland 1832-34 & 1837 note the following: “In the townland of Ballylessan...dimensions 90 feet by 30, 25 seats, would contain 7 persons each. The church is pleasantly situated. The trees that surround it and ornamental tombstones gives an unusal but agreeable appearance.” (p.56) The site of the church was selected by Lord Hillsborough following the decision to build a new church for the parish of Drumbo, having gone almost 600 years without a place of worship. The task of building the new church was given to James Beers and James Watson Hull, the newly elected wardens of the parish, and it was on lands owned by Beers in the Upper Ballylesson townland that the church would be built. A meeting held by the vestry on 23rd Oct 1788 records “James Beers has granted and made over to the church wardens of sd. Parish for the use of the parishioners free forever, one acre, one rood, and thirty-one perches of land for a church yard in the place approved of by the sd. Earl of Hillsborough.” (Rankin p.24-40) Dublin architect Charles Lilly, who had carried out extensive work on the Downshire estate and at Down Cathedral, was engaged to produce the plans for the new church. These original drawings show a tower with a copper dome and a nave with arched windows and a shallow pitched roof and although the copper dome no longer exists, it is referred to in accounts for the building of the church at £28.14s.11d. Lewis, also refers to it in his Topographical Survey of Ireland (1837) “A handsome Grecian edifice with a lofty tower surmounted by a copper dome.” (Lewis p.511-512) It is likely that Lilly also designed St John's Parish church in Hilltown (HB16.07.001) which had been built some years earlier in 1766 for Lord Hillsborough and bears a striking resemblance to the early Drumbo plans. The church remained unaltered until the Ecclesiastical Commissioners made plans to select Drumbo Parish for enlargement as early as 1855. Having tasked to Thomas Gray and James Skelton Bell to collect subscriptions and arrange the works, the additional chancel and south transept, designed by Welland & Gillespie, was completed and opened for Divine Service on Good Friday April 3, 1863, at the cost of £450. The north transept was added a year later, expended by Robert Batt and Mrs Caldwell. (Rankin p.61) The proposed plans for the original church show an octagonal dome which may have been constructed and finished in copper. (Rankin p32) During recent works to the tower some iron beams were uncovered that may have been part of this dome. In1874 W.J. Watson, architect from Newry oversaw the replacement of the original roof with one set at a much steeper pitch. The pitch of the original roof can still be seen on the exterior gable at the East end. At this time the the original box pews were removed and replaced with the present pitch pine pews and the original nave windows, shown on Lilly's drawings, were also replaced with enlarged Gothic pointed arch windows. Local knowledge also notes that the string courses at high level are upturned trimmed headstones from the graveyard as recently discovered during repair work. The stained glass window by Gibbs of London, located in the chancel was installed by Robert Narcissus Batt in memory of his father. Upon recent repair works to the plaster of the chancel brick arches were revealed on either side. Local knowledge suggests that, as there is no corresponding door to the exterior, Robert Narcissus intended these niches as memorials to himself and his wife. During the 20th century the only addition and alteration to the church is a single storey toilet built c1980 adjoining the vestry, on the north elevation and an external door to the left of the chancel, dated 1989 by roman numerals over. The current font was removed from Christ Church in Belfast after it was deconsecrated in 1994 and installed in the North transept. Also transferred from Christ Church is a memorial tablet to Michael Thomas Sadler, who dies in 1835. Although he worshipped in Christ Church, he is buried in Drumbo, in a grave surrounded by iron railings on the right hand side of the path leaving the church. In 1981 one of the leading eccleiastical architects of the twentieth century, Mr Stephen Dykes Bower, was employed to survey the church and advice on lighting. This resulted in the addition of the chandelier lighting, the wiring of the original wall light brackets and the red walls in the sanctuary. He also advised on St Marks, Dundela. In 2004 major restorative work to the internal plasterwork and roof was carried out. At this time the slates were cleaned and replaced after insulation was installed. Reference – Primary Source 1. PRONI OS/6/1/9/1 – OS Map 1834 2. PRONI OS/6/1/9/2 – OS Map 1858 3. PRONI OS/6/1/9/3 – OS Map 1901 4. PRONI OS/6/1/9/7 – OS Map 1938 5. PRONI VAL/1B/326 – Annual Revision 1828-40 6. PRONI VAL/1A/3/9 – Annual Revision Filed Map 1830 7. PRONI VAL/2B/3/25B – GriffithsValuation 1856-1864 8. PRONI VAL/12B/20/11A-E – Annual Revisions 1865-1929 Reference - Secondary Source 1.Lewis, Samuel. “A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Comprising the Several Counties, Cities, Boroughs, Corporate, Market, and Post Towns, Parishes, and Villages, With Historical and Statistical Descriptions; Embellished with Engravings of the Arms of the Cities, Bishopricks, Corporate Towns, and Boroughs; Of the Seals of the Several Municipal Corporations.” London: S. Lewis & Co., 1837. 2. Rankin, J.F. “The Heritage of Drumbo” Parish of Drumbo,1982 3. Day, A. and P. McWilliams, eds. “Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Volume Seven, Parishes of County DownII, 1832-4, 1837” Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, 1991

Criteria for Listing

Architectural Interest

A. Style B. Proportion C. Ornamentation D. Plan Form H+. Alterations enhancing the building I. Quality and survival of Interior J. Setting

Historic Interest

V. Authorship Y. Social, Cultural or Economic Importance W. Northern Ireland/International Interest


A church with tower built c.1790 to designs by Charles Lilly, with later Gothic additions c.1860 by Welland & Gillespie, located on the crest of a hill overlooking and contributing to the rural setting of Ballylesson and Purdysburn. The style and proportions are exemplified by the quality of the external fabric, which adds to the character of the building and its surroundings. The later 19th century additions demonstrate clear and legible historic additions, along with the alterations to the existing windows of the nave. The ground floor window of the spire is of particular interest indicating how the original windows of the nave would have appeared. Good quality stained glass window in chancel by Gibbs of London c.1865. A socially important building of local interest that has remained largely unaltered since the 19th century additions. The church is enhanced by the gates, pillars and walling and its mature setting including graveyard.

General Comments

Date of Survey

06 July 2010